ELON MUSK THINKS we might all be living in a computer simulation. He says that “there’s a one in a billion chance that this is base reality.” The idea, on its face, sounds completely insane. But when you sit down and listen to why he thinks it, it’s actually not that crazy.
Okay, it’s still a little crazy. But this video by Vox makes it sound at least…coherent. The idea is simple: In just the past 40 years, we’ve come from Pong to games like the Sims, or video games that are pretty realistic. It stands to reason that, in the next few decades, our games are going to get even more realistic. To the point where we may be able to realistically simulate most of the things happening in real life. A hyper-realistic simulation may, in fact, be able to create its own simulations. How do we know that we’re not one of these hyper-realistic simulations?
Head hurt yet? It’s cool — there’s no way (yet) to prove that this theory is true, but it’s a similar version of a thought experiment that philosophers have played with for centuries. It gets updated every few years to reflect changing technologies. Philosopher Rene Descartes famously created the “Evil demon” thought experiment, which postulated that we can’t prove that all that we perceive about the world isn’t the creation of some malicious evil demon that wants to trick us. Descartes concluded that we couldn’t be certain of anything but our own existence — “I think, therefore I am.”
In the 20th century, the thought experiment was updated: It’s now called the “brain in a vat” thought experiment by philosopher Gilbert Harman, who says we have no way of knowing that we’re not just a brain in a mad scientist’s lab, being probed by electrodes. Now, in the age of technology, it’s a Matrix-like supercomputer running simulations.
There’s no way of knowing whether Musk is right or not (I tend to lean towards not, but that’s only because I can’t imagine someone creating a simulation that’s so boring so much of the time), but it almost creates more problems than it solves. Who created the original simulation, then? And what created them? What if they get tired of playing their game?
Thank goodness for possibly simulated stiff drinks.